As had been the case up until that point, though, it was the journey there that was complicated. The record’s primary writer had made his vocals inaudible in early mixes to keep 21st Century Breakdown’s lyrics secret.
Billie Joe wouldn’t show Butch or his bandmates what he’d written until later in the year, when he read them aloud in tracklist order. Only then would Mike, Tré and Butch learn what had inspired his songwriting: politics, religion, drugs, prosperity and poverty, self-destruction, and love.
Across its three acts – Heroes and Cons, Charlatans and Saints, and Horseshoes and Handgrenades – and 69 minutes, Billie Joe used everything from Hurricane Katrina to his wife, Adrienne, as creative stimuli.
Sonically, it was the next logical step for Green Day, too. While the likes of Murder City and The Static Age could have comfortably sat on American Idiot, 21st Century Breakdown as a whole delivered more: ultra-sleazy, mariachi-esque vibes (Peacemaker), mini-rock operas (the title-track, American Eulogy), lighters-in-the-air sing-alongs (21 Guns), and epic rallying-cries (Know Your Enemy).
“It’s a musical narrative,” Billie Joe pondered. “It ebbs and flows. It takes you from a saloon in the 19th century to a dark melancholy place, to driving down a street, blasting your radio loudly while throwing beer bottles out the window.”
Green Day struggled to let the album go when it was complete, however. Even after initially submitting it to Warner Bros. ahead of its May 15 release in 2009, they hastily took it back again.
But this painstaking approach worked wonders. Kerrang! awarded the album the perfect 5/5 rating and the record hit Number One in the U.S. and the UK, as well as scooping their second Best Rock Album win at the GRAMMYs.